Newman, Stewart get a much-needed boost at New Hampshire
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Loudon, NH (Sports Network) -
Stewart-Haas Racing waved a magic wand over the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart qualifying and finishing 1-2 in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
Some wizardry for Newman and Stewart at "The Magic Mile" is surely what they needed to bolster their hopes of making the field for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
With one win to his credit so far this season, Newman significantly increased his chances of qualifying for the 12-driver Chase field.
Newman currently holds the eighth spot in the point standings, but if he were to sit outside the top-10 in points after the Sept. 10 race at Richmond, his one win might be good enough to earn him a wild-card spot.
"This win is huge for us," Newman said. "We had a lot to work towards for our first victory. But for us to get the U.S. Army [Chevrolet] in victory lane, that was a goal we had way before the season ever started, for the soldiers, our sponsors and our team.
"The timing of it is perfect from a points standpoint, from a wild card standpoint with respect to the points."
Newman, the pole sitter, conserved enough fuel and then held off a hard- charging Stewart in the closing laps at New Hampshire to claim his 15th career Sprint Cup win but his first since April 2010 at Phoenix (47 races ago). Three of his victories have come at this flat one-mile track.
Stewart arguably had the fastest car in the late stages of the race, moving from fifth to second within the last 25 laps at a track where passing is a challenge.
Ryan Newman conserved enough fuel and then held off a hard-charging Stewart in the closing laps.
"We knew we had a good car," Stewart said. "I was surprised how good our car was at the end of the day, because we didn't change much during the race. It seemed like the later the day went, the better our car got. It seemed it got better as the day cooled off."
Right now, David Ragan holds the first wild-card spot, due to his win earlier this month at Daytona. Ragan finished 14th at New Hampshire and climbed up to 13th in points. Even though Stewart has yet to win a race this season, he occupies the final wild-card position. Stewart is presently tied with 10th- place Denny Hamlin, but NASCAR has Stewart ranked 11th, since Hamlin has a victory already (last month at Michigan).
Hamlin bounced back from a multi-car wreck just past the halfway point to finish third at New Hampshire.
The 1-2 finish for SHR came as a surprise to many, because the two-car team had endured its share of frustration during the first half of this season. In early June, Stewart made a personnel change in his organization, with competition director Bobby Hutchens being released from the team and Matt Borland taking over the role in the interim. Hutchens had served in the position since SHR's entrance into Sprint Cup at the start of the 2009 season.
"It's no secret we've been struggling this year," Stewart said. "But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization. It's been one of the weirdest years as far as just weird things and bad luck happening to [Newman and me].
"Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away. They keep working, and they keep their chins up. That's probably what I'm most proud of. It's easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That is to me what shows the character of what Stewart-Haas Racing is about and what our people are like."
In their first year as teammates, Newman and Stewart qualified for the Chase in '09. Can they do it again this year?
Just seven races remain before the Chase begins September 18 at Chicagoland. The series is off next weekend before running one of its most prestigious events of the season -- the Brickyard 400 on July 31.
"This off-weekend is going to be nice," Newman said. "Going into Indianapolis with a lot of weight off our shoulders and a smile on our face is going to be really nice for our team and organization."
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